Tag Archives: male pianist

Meet the Artist……Florian Mitrea, pianist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I suppose it was initially the fact that my father’s enjoyed playing a little jazz piano as a hobby, and as a toddler I couldn’t resist hitting the keys, rather too often for my Grandmother’s liking. It was this that meant I started having formal piano lessons, and it has grown from there. It was, however a long time until I thought that I might be able to play professionally. I think in the end it comes down to the fact that I love music and having the opportunity to share it, and there came a point where I just couldn’t conceive of doing anything else.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have benefited very early on in my life from wonderfully committed teachers who cared about my personal development as well as my musical one. They gave me a through technical grounding, but they also showed me that technique is about freeing yourself to be able to communicate musically.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I think for any young pianist currently it is quite tough, there are so many exceptional musicians that it’s hard not to wonder sometimes whether you have something distinctive to bring. And balance is always something that’s hard to achieve – especially when navigating your early career. I hugely enjoy teaching and working with young musicians, and being able to share with them, but also take part in competitions, as well as performing. I have in the past struggled a great deal with nerves and perhaps for me that will be a lifetime process, but it is something that I have very actively worked on in the past few years, and am gradually overcoming.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I think the performances I am most proud of aren’t necessarily the ones in the most prestigious venues, but the ones where I feel a real connection with the audience. That can happen not just in a big concert hall, but sometimes when you play to children or people who don’t often attend classical music concerts, they aren’t constrained by learned behaviour. They experience music in a very immediate way. In terms of recordings, I have just been in the studio, recording my first CD project, in partnership with Kawai and German label Acousence, of pieces which are linked to folk music and the Danube – it was wonderful to have the opportunity to make the recording, and I am so excited for it to be released later in the year.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s really hard to choose a favourite, when so much depends on the occasion, the audience and the mood. I feel a particular affinity with Mozart: the phrases are so natural, and I think as far as one can argue that classical music is somehow universal, then Mozart is the embodiment of this. But I also love the richness of the great Romantic repertoire, the sheer inventiveness of Prokofiev, and of course nearly all pianists want to explore the depths of Beethoven’s piano writing.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I’m not yet in a position where I make all the choices! Often I get offered a concert with particular repertoire in mind, so that’s always an excellent justification for broadening my repertoire. Otherwise I try to create interesting programmes which have overarching themes, or celebrate a particular composer, and I try to balance familiar repertoire with other pieces which may be fresh to the audience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

As a pianist I am always going to be thrilled if a venue has a great piano, as pianists have to try and adapt themselves to the temperament and qualities of the piano they find, rather than being able to bring a familiar instrument with them. But I don’t think it’s the building that makes a concert. It’s the audience, so it doesn’t matter if it’s an ornate concert hall, although they are obviously wonderful, or a more alternative and intimate setting. I’ve never played outdoors as an adult, so that’s one I hope to try one day!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s so hard to choose but the Mozart concertos, some Liszt and Prokofiev would have to be included. I also enjoy listening to music I can’t play myself: Opera, symphonic repertoire and jazz being my favourites.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I believe there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found in the recordings of the old piano masters. I am personally most drawn to Gilels and Lipatti. The sincerity and depth of their performances is rarely matched. Also, we are very blessed to be able to experience live the performances of legendary musicians such as Argerich, Lupu and Barenboim. Away from the world of piano, my favourite musician is probably soprano Cecilia Bartoli. She sings so beautifully, and I find her art inspirational for my piano playing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was a small boy when Gerhard Oppitz came to give a recital in Bucharest. I remember it was all sold out, but I managed to squeeze in the auditorium thanks to the kind ticket lady who let me in. I sat on the fire-escape stairs, but I will never forget the impact his rendition of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations had on me. It was music-making beyond any rational understanding.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think that hard work and dedication can never be underestimated. But if you keep practicing and listening and being open to ideas you will always improve. Music is an art not a science, and so people will always have different ideas of what things should sound like, but this doesn’t have to be reductive. You have to be led by a desire to communicate, so educate yourself as broadly as you can, read literature, go to the theatre, as well as practise.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being on a remote island, with my wife and dogs, an amazing picnic, some wonderful recordings – and a boat to go back to the mainland on at the end of the day.

 

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Florian Mitrea’s early passion for the piano led him to a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In  2016 Florian was joint winner of the Verona International Piano Competition and was awarded second prize in the major biennial James Mottram International Piano Competition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK. This followed success in 2015 when he was a finalist (fourth prize and chamber music award) at the Hamamatsu Piano Competition and earlier was awarded second prizes at both the Santa Cecilia Competition in Porto, and the Premio Città di Imola at the Imola Academy. In 2014 Florian won third prize and the Classical Concerto Prize at the ARD International Competition in Munich, and first prize at Lagny-sur-Marne. Previous prizes include first prizes at the Panmusica 2010 Vienna International Piano Competition, the Beethoven 2010, and Sheepdrove 2011 Intercollegiate Competitions in the United Kingdom. Earlier prizes include several first prizes in the Romanian Music Olympics and the Ada Ulubeanu Piano Competition, and third prize in the Jeunesses Musicales International Competition.

Florian has performed recitals and concertos across Romania, and in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea and the USA. In the UK Florian has performed at venues including St John’s Smith Square, King’s Place, St. Martin-in-the Fields, St. James’ Piccadilly, Steinway Hall, Draper’s Hall, Colston Hall in Bristol, Dartington Hall and Bath Abbey.

Florian’s piano studies started in Bucharest as a student of Flavia Moldovan and Gabriela Enăşescu, ultimately at George Enescu Music High School. While studying at RAM with Diana Ketler he obtained his BMus with First Class Honours and the Regency Award for notable achievement. In the summer of 2014, he obtained his Master of Arts degree with Distinction and a DipRAM for his final recital, and received the Alumni Development Award for distinguished studentship. He held the Hodgson Memorial post-studentship Fellowship at RAM in 2014-2015 and continues to teach there within the piano department. Florian is currently studying with Boris Petrushansky at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola, Italy.

 

Meet the Artist……Vikingur Olafsson, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I came to the piano quite early – when still in my mother’s womb! She’s a piano teacher and when 5 months pregnant with me, she played her diploma recital from Berlin university, so I was quite close to the keys from the beginning. I started playing the piano before being able to speak (I was admittedly rather slow when it came to forming words), and there are pictures of me playing the piano as soon as I was tall enough to reach for the keys, high above my head.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

That would be my parents. My mother, the piano teacher, and my father who is a composer and architect. Mum introduced a lot of the classical and romantic repertoire to me, while dad brought 20th century music to my attention, relatively early on.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Finding my way after my study years in New York, moving to Europe with practically no professional connections and nothing going for me. I wanted to build my career without doing piano competitions and realized that I needed to become my own teacher and find my own way once I had finished school. So I had a lot of time for self-study and focused especially on the works of J.S. Bach, started my own record company and later also started a music festival in Reykjavík, and gradually began to get more and more invitations to play concerts. But it wasn’t always easy. Getting a manager seemed very difficult early on, I sent some CD’s and letters to different people and never got answers. I felt the business was simply impossible, that no one was listening, regardless of how you played or what you did. But bit by bit things started to happen and it helped me quite a lot when Alfred Brendel reassured me in 2012 by telling me that “it takes 15 years to become famous overnight”. I think that holds true for the great majority of International performers, but not many people talk about it.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s easy to look at everything one has done and only see the things that one would have liked to do differently in the present. I think we have to embrace the different phases of our artistic development and often I find that peformances from the past are considerably better than I had imagined and worried.

I’m rather happy about my Bach-Chopin album from 2011 with Partitas No 2 and 5 and the 24 preludes, I can listen to that disc and enjoy it. For concert performances, I’ll mention my first Rach 3 performance, from 2007 with Iceland Symphony and Rumon Gamba (on Youtube). I was actually very unhappy with myself after the concert but today I don’t really understand why.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Not for me to say, but I do feel very comfortable in the works of J.S. Bach and Ludvig van Beethoven.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to have a healthy balance of adding new concertos and recital works to my repertoire and to revisit works I’ve played before. I also try to commission and premiere a new Piano Concerto every 2-3 years. Right now, I’m actually more into revisiting works, but I’m still adding 3-4 piano concertos every season and probably 1-2 recital programmes.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? My favourite venue is Harpa in Reykjavík. I was honoured to perform the very first concert in the big hall in 2011, the Grieg Piano Concerto with Iceland Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and I still get this extra buzz of excitement when going on stage there. Besides, the acoustics are marvellous, the pianos great and backstage you have the view of the ocean and Mount Esja, my favourite mountain.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who keep an open ear and never take anything for granted.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The opening concert of Harpa Concert House in 2011.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think the most important is to find a way to become your own teacher. For that you have to try to develop the skill to listen to yourself while you play as if you were sitting 15 meters away in the hall. Quite paradoxical. Nothing is better in this regard than recording yourself, whether at home or for an album release. But it can be painful and one always wants to practise just a little bit more before pressing the rec button and having to look in that musical mirror…

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Alive and playing great music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My Steinway B model Grand Piano from 2009 and my gorgeous Longman and Broderip Square Piano from 1785.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m on an airplane as I write these answers, heading to Iceland. It’s 25th February and somehow I’ve already played 12 concerts this month. I’m a bit tired and am so looking forward to having 10 days of break!

Vikingur Olafsson’s CD of Philip Glass Piano Works is available now on the DG label

Possessing a rare combination of passionate musicality, explosive virtuosity and intellectual curiosity, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson has won all the major prizes in his native country, including four Musician of the Year prizes at the Icelandic Music Awards as well as The Icelandic Optimism Prize.

Víkingur grew up in Iceland where he studied with Erla Stefánsdóttir and Peter Máté. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.

Read Vikingur’s full biography

[Interview date: 25th February 2017}

 

(picture: Harrison Parrott)

Meet the Artist……Kirill Gerstein, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I think for me, music and the piano emerged from the fog of my earliest memories because the piano was always in the house for as long as I can remember. My mother was teaching in a music college but also at home, so in that sense the piano, and especially music, were always there. It started as a sort of game with my mother: that was the trigger.

As for this whole music “career” business, I didn’t know until I was about 10 or 11 that I adored the piano. I loved music more than the instrument to begin with and then the love of the instrument came at a later stage. So I knew I wanted to do something with music but not whether I would or could be a concert pianist. But from about the age of 10, I switched to a better teacher and all of a sudden I had this tremendous interest in the instrument. Then I won a children’s competition in Poland and one thing led to another…

I can’t point to an earth-shattering moment when I knew “this is what I want to do” – it was more of a gradual, organic process.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The most significant teachers (and this is not to do any disservice to other people from whom I received advice) and musical influences would be Dmitri Bashkirov with whom I studied in Madrid, and Ferenc Rados, who I studied with in Budapest, and wherever else we would meet. Those two are really the most significant musically speaking. But then I have received a lot of inspiration and ideas from Andras Schiff, for example, and Alexis Weissenberg, who, when he was still alive, gave me some very important impulses. Then there are conductors, like Semyon Bychkov, who have given me a lot of inspiration and advice, so I must say I feel very fortunate. It’s always been purposeful, because I seek out these people to learn something from them and that has been incredibly fruitful and stimulating. But when thinking about music and playing music, Bashkirov and Rados have been the most significant.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Well let’s start with the fact that music is difficult and the piano is a bloody difficult instrument to play! On the one hand it’s challenging, but on the other hand, it’s what keeps it so incredibly interesting and vital to continue, otherwise life would be terribly boring. Playing music on an instrument with one’s body is an extremely challenging occupation. Then there’s the fact that as an instrumentalist, you are forced to reflect on everything inside yourself – psychological limitations, fears, advantages, disadvantages. So staring at your reflection day in day out with such great intimacy and with the purpose of self-improving is also a challenge but is one that I nevertheless love and think is a great way of reaching a better understanding of oneself.

Other challenges include not allowing oneself to be distracted by the so-called “business” of a musical career and everything that that entails, to maintain a good level of mental and spiritual energy, trying to improve every day, learning new repertoire, getting better, and so on.

I think this balancing act is quite hard. And as everybody knows, the so-called “music business” is challenging because it comes with a lot of hurdles, but at the end of the day, it’s not the most significant thing in the world. To keep the soul in balance is a challenge, but generally balance is difficult to find in life! And what is important to know is that this balance is ever-changing.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Eclectically (!) which I think is important and also in some ways purposeful. It has to start with something that deeply interests me: for example, the Transcendental Études are an interesting challenge for myself but one that I hope I can make interesting for audiences too because it’s not just for me.

It also comes from particular personal interests. I hate programming that looks like “Oh here’s another piece I learnt so let me play that for you”, so eventually there needs to be some kind of coherence or connection or inner logic which isn’t necessarily musicological or historical. This then influences what I choose, what goes well with what, a bit like making a menu… Alexis Weissenberg once said to me, “nothing betrays the personality of the pianist better than the way he puts together his recital programmes and the height of his stool at the instrument” and I think there is some witty wisdom in that comment. Especially in the case of concertos, less so with recital repertoire, I’ve been quite open to external impulses or suggestions from a conductor. There are a number of concertos I would not necessarily have thought of learning but then you fall in love or become intimately associated with the piece. So I enjoy external influences in that sense. But essentially I don’t agree to do anything that I don’t like or can’t believe in.

What is the special fascination of Liszt’s Transcendental Études for you?

It’s multi-faceted: I think Liszt is a great fascination because as modern pianists we owe the majority of our musical and pianistic lives to him in the sense that he has shaped our hands through the pianistic advice he has created, and he influenced the majority of what is played since his time. Everything that came later – Busoni, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Prokofiev – is the result of everything that Liszt came up with during the 20-25 years he was occupied with the Transcendental Études in their various incarnations. So the Transcendental Études are the Everest of piano literature, but also a distillation of Liszt as a pianistic experience. But obviously we owe him far more than the pianistic experience: there are the musical inventions, without which we would not have Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, Busoni etc. There’s also the whole business of performing recitals as a soloist which we owe largely to Liszt – as Busoni said, “Liszt is the tree and we are all branches of that tree.”

It’s also a personal project. I wanted to take the “Transcendental Études journey” in order to self-improve through working on it and pursuing it as a cycle as I don’t think it is a random collection of 12 studies. It’s also of course so much more than a technical journey. Arthur Friedheim, an important student of Liszt, said something like “I had the privilege and honour of walking in the footsteps of the great” and I think the sentiment relates to Liszt, and essentially all the other great composers that we play. We get to follow in the “finger steps” of these great minds and spirits that have walked the keyboard, and in that sense it’s really a tremendous experience to be in touch with history in this way. But it’s not just a question of digging archaeologically; it’s about making the music, and therefore history, alive again so it can be felt in the air until it dissipates. This is one of the great privileges of being a performer. When playing Liszt, it’s the most amazing experience when you let him take over your hands, body and mind.

Having said that though, this wasn’t the intended outcome. When I started studying the Transcendental Études a year before I recorded them, I wasn’t certain whether I would be able to play them let alone very well. Everything began to emerge as I went further along the journey.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are very divergent styles of concert venues – old concert halls, such as the Musikverein, are incredible. Boston Symphony Hall is also of this kind. Those two could easily be named as favourites. Then there are the great American halls of the turn of 20th-century and the 1920s – Carnegie, Severance Hall (Cleveland), Orchestra Hall (Chicago). There are also some really excellent new venues, but they are hard to compare to the old ones because of the different mentality towards sound.

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is also wonderful, and I quite like the hall in Copenhagen and the KKL in Luzern … but it would be hard to say if I prefer a particular hall. They are all different animals and it’s wonderful to have the variety.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Generally, at the risk of sounding condescending, I do feel it’s important to share one’s experiences because they may resonate with a person who is on an earlier but similar path to yourself – and this is one of the reasons why I started teaching relatively early at the age of 26. I am not sure whether it’s possible to “impart” curiosity but it’s important to stimulate it along with a love of what we do. Love and curiosity are almost one and the same thing or at least are closely related.

The curiosity about the big and small aspects of we do – how your index finger may depress that one key, curiosity about the repertoire, the culture, what role music and art can play in our lives – these are all a big part of that. If someone is not curious, you cannot impart curiosity. But when someone is curious, I think it is our responsibility to nourish and stimulate it.

Kirill Gerstein performs Liszt’s Trancendental Etudes, together with music by Brahms and Bach on Sunday 12th February at St George’s Hall Concert Room in Liverpool. Further details here

The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks.  With a masterful technique, discerning intelligence, and a musical curiosity that has led him to explore repertoire spanning centuries and styles, he has proven to be one of today’s most intriguing and versatile musicians. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style, inspiring an energetic and expressive musical personality that distinguishes his playing.

Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, presented every four years to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, possesses broad and profound musicianship and charisma and who desires and can sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau, with additional commissions scheduled for future seasons. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant.

Kirill Gerstein’s full biography

 

(photo: Marco Borggreve)

Meet the Artist……Martin Roscoe

picWho or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I started piano aged 6 and didn’t show much interest in the first few months but a family trip to London when I was just 7 included a night at the Proms, with Malcolm Sargent conducting the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique which just blew me away. When I got back home they couldn’t get me off the piano ! As far as a career was concerned I really had no idea what was entailed … I just drifted into it…one thing led to another. 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your career as a musician?

My teachers to start with: Marjorie Clementi, who sorted out my technique when I went to her aged 13 and who taught me to listen to myself for the first time. Gordon Green, who taught me how to practise in so many imaginative ways, and whose infectious love and enthusiasm for music overall was very inspiring. He really was a great human being. When I was a student Alfred Brendel’s early recordings were a great inspiration, and also the playing of so many pianists… Richter, Rubinstein , Kempff and Curzon to name a few of the most important.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Recording all the major Schubert works for Radio3 in the 1980’s and more recently recording all the Beethoven Sonatas for Deux-Elles. Playing at the Proms was a great experience , but very challenging!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto at the Proms in 1989, and my recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas

Which particular works/composers do you think you play best?

Beethoven and Schubert for sure. Mozart’s Concertos, Brahms, Dohnanyi, and Debussy.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I’ve started to play themed programmes in the last few seasons….The piano and nature for example this year including Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata and shorter works by Liszt, Schumann, Dohnanyi Ireland and Debussy all inspired by nature. Next year The piano and Art …works by Liszt, Debussy and Granados culminating in Mussorgsky’s Pictures. Also a lot of all Beethoven programmes when recording the sonatas. Now all Schubert programmes in preparation for recording his works.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

S0 many! – but Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall for concertos…. The clarity and immediacy make it so exciting. For solo it’s difficult to beat Kings Place. For chamber the warmth of sound in the Wigmore is very special

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to list….but for listening I’m still as obsessed by Wagner now as I was when I discovered his music as a teenager. Haydn Quartets are an endless treasure trove…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, where to start ? Just recently I heard two stunning performances from very contrasting pianists whose work I love and admire…….Richard Goode and Martha Argerich

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Taking part in the final concert of Kathy Stott’s Piano 2000 festival at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester…all the Rachmaninov Concertos in one evening. I played No.2

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Fidelity to the score and the communication of the music without personal interference. Meaning is more important than style, yet a sound knowledge of style is also necessary. An interest in all the works of the major composers, not just the piano music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from playing Schubert and Beethoven, walking on the hills of Scotland and the Lake District, cooking, watching films, and listening to Wagner

 

With an extraordinary career spanning over 4 decades, Martin Roscoe is unarguably one of the UK’s best loved pianists. Renowned for his versatility at the keyboard, Martin is equally at home in concerto, recital and chamber performances. In an ever more distinguished career, his enduring popularity and the respect in which he is universally held are built on a deeply thoughtful musicianship allied to an easy rapport with audiences and fellow musicians alike.


Read more about Martin Roscoe here

Meet the Artist……Finghin Collins, pianist

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(photo: Frances Marshall)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music? 

My family! I am the youngest of four children and when I came along my three elder siblings were all at it! I was dying to get started and at the age of three my eldest sister Mary (aged 13) started to teach me. At age 6 I won a scholarship into the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin to continue my studies with John O’Conor, but Mary also continued to coach me at home. And I haven’t stopped playing since! And I’m nearly 40!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

John O’Conor was the most wonderful and inspiring teacher and mentor.  He taught me from age 6 to 22 – I did my bachelor degree in music performance under his tutelage.  He has also been extremely generous to me by promoting me to his many international contacts and has helped my career enormously.

Christoph Eschenbach also helped me greatly when I was in my early 20s.  I was selected by Menahem Pressler to play for him at a  public masterclass in Ravinia and Eschenbach was so impressed he invited me to make my American début with the Houston Symphony – and I subsequently returned to play with the Chicago Symphony under his direction  – that was an amazing experience!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Maintaining a high standard of performance throughout a gruelling schedule of concerts with varying repertoire.  I am very lucky to be very busy and I get through a huge amount of difficult repertoire and am constantly learning new chamber music scores (currently the Ligeti Horn Trio!) – this is all wonderful and I am very grateful to be so busy but it comes with great challenges, simply being on top of the music at all times! And the other great challenge for me is dealing with varying acoustics.  It makes it so much harder to perform when you are in a dry theatre! Sadly one cannot play at the Wigmore Hall all of the time!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My solo Schumann recordings for Claves Records.  They were the first really serious recordings I made and the whole process was so rewarding and fascinating.  So different to performing in recital. Hugely demanding in concentration but very satisfying when the final product sounds OK!

Which particular works do you think you play best?  

In solo repertoire, I think I am happiest with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Chopin  – at least, at the moment! I have just recorded a new Chopin CD and I feel really comfortable in that repertoire. But I love playing Bach as well!

Paricular works that I feel I play best (reading the question again!) – Schubert Drei Klavierstücke D. 946, Brahms Two Rhapsodies Op. 79, Alban Berg Piano Sonata, Chopin Ballade No. 4.  Just off the top of my head! Other people may think differently! I often think we are perhaps not the best judges of our own playing??!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

That is another great challenge.  It’s so hard to know what you will want to play 18 months in the future, or how you will get on with certain pieces.  It takes great courage (or foolhardiness?) to programme a very challenging work (for example the Chopin Preludes Op. 28) in a major venue (for example the Wigmore Hall)  when you haven’t ever played them before!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’ve already mentioned it twice – the Wigmore Hall in London has got the most fabulous acoustic, and the feeling on stage is so rewarding and positive. I always feel I play about 10% better there than anywhere else! There’s just a feel-good factor, something about the sound that comes back to you on stage.  It’s the perfect size auditorium – for solo recitals at least, I’ve done very little chamber music there and no song! Hopefully in the future ! Another venue I’m very fond of – and proud of – is St. Mary’s Church in New Ross in Ireland, where we hold the annual New Ross Piano Festival in late September.  It has a most satisfactory acoustic and has been compared to the finest chamber halls in Europe.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Perform: see above.

Listen to: Brahms string sextets, Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin, Verdi opera, Mozart opera, Mendelssohn octet…

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gosh, where to start! There are too many.  I work with such a huge variety of wonderful musicians. For example, this summer I worked with a  wonderful Russian violinist Nikika Borisoglebsky, I’d never heard of him and he was amazing! I also worked with the Goldner String Quartet in Australia, who were wonderful, what a lovely experience! And that’s just picking two at random. At the moment I have a few projects with István Várdai who is a fabulous Hungarian cellist.  Over the past decade I have worked a lot with the wonderful French cellist Marc Coppey.  When it comes to starry pianists (if that’s what the question meant?!) – the usual suspects apply – Argerich / Perahia / Lupu / Uchida but possibly most of all Grigory Sokolov, who is extraordinary.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A recital by Grigory Sokolov in Switzerland (Cully Classique festival 2013 – it took place in a small intimate church with no more than 300 people) in which he played a most stunning rendition of the Hammerklavier Sonata.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Listen to yourself, listen to others, listen to other genres of music, be open to new ideas, play a lot of chamber music, go to a lot of concerts, don’t do too many masterclasses, don’t study until you’re 30, don’t do too many competitions, get out there and network and respond to emails in a business-like fashion!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Doing the same routine only better, still having lots of concert engagements, still travelling, still having an appetite for it all, meeting new people, playing new music, constantly striving to serve the music better and fulfil my potential. Keep communicating the central message of the music to our audience, whom we live to serve! Without audiences we are nothing!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Jumping off a boat into the green sea off a Greek island for a swim before drinks and dinner with a treasured friend (or two).

What is your most treasured possession?

My iphone.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Travelling.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic.

Finghin Collins has been Artistic Director of the New Ross Piano Festival since its inception in 2006. This year’s festival runs from 22-25 September. Further information here

One of Ireland’s most successful musicians, Dubliner Finghin Collins was born in 1977 and studied piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with John O’Conor and at the Geneva Conservatoire with Dominique Merlet. Winner of the RTÉ Musician of the Future Competition in 1994 and the Classical Category at the National Entertainment Awards in Ireland in1998, he went on to achieve major international success by taking first prize at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland in 1999. Since then he has developed a flourishing international career that takes him all over Europe, the United States and the Far East.

Finghin Collins’ website

Meet the Artist……Ian Pace, pianist

ian

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music? 

My parents bought a piano, at first just as a piece furniture, when I was aged 6, and (so I am told!) I asked them ‘When am I going to have lessons?’ They said ‘Oh, hadn’t thought about that’, but I went to lessons with the local piano teacher (in Hartlepool), Christopher Simmonds, who was great in many ways. Within a year he could see that I had the potential to go places, and I went to Chetham’s when I was 10.

But I got inspired to really go with it mostly through taking music out of my local library and bashing through it at the piano, as well as listening to lots of recordings. I bashed my way through the whole of the Ring cycle, and lots of other operas, and got absolutely hooked. And then at around age 10, I first heard music of Stockhausen, Cage and Messiaen, and was instantly transfixed (I also read the Richard Kostelanetz volume on Cage which was available then, in the late 1970s). I just found a world of the untethered imagination there which was unlike anything else I knew in life. I was equally interested in composing in those days, too. Nowadays, composing is very occasional, but I do have plans to do more at some point when time permits!

I was very inspired by listening to a few pianists at an early stage – Brendel, Barenboim (I still love Brendel in particular); later on I got to know a much wider range, and was transfixed by Horowitz, Cziffra, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Gieseking and various others. But listening to recordings of Furtwängler and Karajan conducting Beethoven, Wagner, Musorgsky, Strauss, and so on, was every bit as important.

I think I just naturally took to the piano as an instrument – I could do a lot on it without it being too difficult at an early stage, though it was later that I really refined all sorts of technical things.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

Too many to mention! I would like to try and honestly say something about how humanistic and socialist values are the most important influences, right down to how I play music, but that might sound very loaded. In some sense which is very very important to me, I want as a musician to somehow expand, even if only a small amount, the range of experience, consciousness, thoughts, desires, feelings, ideas, available in the cultural realm, to as many people as possible. This is of course a huge ambition, only ever likely to be achievable with a relatively small few, but that is still valuable. I play, and play in what some would say is a relatively uncompromising manner, because I believe in humans, believe in listeners, believe in their potential. I despise elitism for its own sake, but equally despise dumbing-down, and those who claim to be on the left who think culture should be reduced to a lowest common denominator in the name of some pseudo-egalitarian notion of ‘accessibility’. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why a relatively average human being (if such a person exists!) could not engage with music of Lachenmann, or Ferneyhough, or Nono, or Finnissy – or late Bach, late Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Schoenberg, Ornette Coleman, or whoever – if they are open-minded and prepared to put a bit of effort in. I came to all this stuff for that reason – it certainly was not instilled in me through canonical education or anything like that. The same is true of the most advanced literature, film, theatre, painting or other artistic medium.

I am an academic and university lecturer as well as a pianist, teaching a range of musical areas, not just performance-related. I cannot express how rewarding it is to me when I read essays from students, many of whom have only had a relatively limited exposure to music and ideas thereof upon coming up to university, writing intelligent and incisive essays on musical subjects. I can be uncompromising as a teacher as well – I do not wish to provide pre-digested ideas to be parroted unthinkingly, nor to preach some credo in order to gain followers. There are unfortunately plenty in higher education today who primarily look to students for self-validation, rather than looking to bring out creative and critical thinking in students themselves and listen to what they have to say; and towards that former end some teach via spoon-feeding in a way that to which some will respond positively. I just want to expose students to a range of music and ideas that they might not otherwise have encountered (and, alas, in many cases still will not even after a university education), and let them arrive at their own conclusions, even if they are radically different to my own. And in some ways I feel the same way about giving a performance – I do not really feel any need or desire to win listeners round to my own perspective, I just offer it up for them to arrive at their own perspective.

To answer this question more directly, perhaps unsurprisingly I would say that the most important influence on my playing was my main piano teacher, György Sándor, with whom I studied in NYC in the early 1990s. I discovered his book On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression when I was about 18, and it completely transformed everything about how I play, at least in a physical sense. I knew then that this was who I wanted to study with, where I would find what I had not found with previous teachers. I had no teacher for the next four years as I prepared above all to study with Sándor, and I was not disappointed at all. He was also a tremendously generous, warm, human being, entirely void of any type of affected grandeur, preciousness, or anything like that. We disagreed violently about various things – he had no time for any atonal music, or much after Bartók, and also little time for historically-informed approaches to performance. I did and do disagree with him strongly on both those things, but still admired the coherence of his positions. As a teacher myself, I teach in a way based upon his pianistic methods, which I continue to believe are move valuable than any other systematic approach. Having spent a lot of time (not least in a scholarly context) studying other schools of playing, I see many of their limitations; some Russian schools preclude a pointed attack and to my mind rather restrict the range of articulations as a result, whilst some French schools (not all!) make a true legato impossible.

I could name any number of composers whose work has been an influence in one way or another, but that probably goes without saying; amongst performers, all of those mentioned above, and then very different ones including David Tudor, Frederic Rzewski, Andreas Staier, all sorts of singers, string players, conductors, and others, some pop and jazz musicians, lots of writers, film-makers, and so on. Overall – perhaps as a natural extrovert in some ways – I feel a natural empathy with all types of artists who I seem able to externalise somehow, and in whose work I find a type of honesty (a much maligned category, but which I continue to find meaningful – perhaps I might put it better by saying a quality of vulnerability?) rather than cynical calculation or preciousness. For those reasons I love the playing of Gieseking, or Charles Rosen, say, but have much less time for that of Alfred Cortot or Edwin Fischer or Samuel Feinberg.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

There have been many. I like to think I am something of an idealist, though my ideals have changed or at least been modified over time (I’m 48 now, and think quite differently to how I did 20 years ago, say, though the underlying motivations are similar). I’ve always felt somewhat estranged from what I perceive as the rather precious and snobbish culture which surrounds classical music, and have sought approaches other from those which satisfy that culture’s concomitant expectations, but without this entailing musical compromise.

That has taken many forms, some of them hard-line to the point of belligerence, and sometimes led to some resistance. In some cases, deliberately avoiding a particular approach was interpreted by some as a simple inability to do it, which I don’t think was true, and I could get disappointed by this. I wouldn’t deny that I’m sensitive to criticism, though inwardly some of my own criticism can be as harsh – though not necessarily of the same nature – as that of anyone. Not that I expect everyone to like all I do (I don’t like everything I’ve ever done), by any means, but at least realise that this is a conscious choice rather than knowing no better. Towards the end of the 1990s, I moved towards more of an ‘anti-romantic’ position, with implications in terms of general approaches to articulation, voicing, pedalling, and so on (though with flexibility), at the same time becoming more deeply interested in historically-informed performance; in the mid-2000s I wanted to relax this more and more. Coming to terms with how one used to play, when things have changed, is not easy – and maybe my approach will change again?

Feeling truly at ease with concertising – at least as much as one can do (nerves never completely go away for me at least) – is not something I think I achieved regularly until the late 1990s, a little bit into my performing career. I made a lot of very significant technical adjustments when working with Sándor, and just sometimes, when very tense, I  found I might revert inadvertently to some of the bad old ways. In time, I came to see how this might come about, and which preventive steps to take in advance of a concert.

Overall, dealing with the internal politics of the profession, and some of the poison therein which exists, is very hard and wearing. The depths to which some people will sink shocks and upset me – for example when I heard one composer invent a story about another one’s father beating him up (definitively not true – that latter composer would have told me long before he told the other person) in order to portray him as mentally unstable. Certainly in the end the music we produce matters more than the musicians, but musicians are human beings, and it is far too easy to lose sight of this in the name of some elevated aesthetic ideals. Ultimately human interests do matter more than art.

In terms of academic music, I’m in many ways quite at odds with the dominant ideologies and approaches in a sizeable part of the Anglo-American world (perhaps less so with other schools from elsewhere). There is a good deal of musicology (though by no means all) which distrusts music and especially its particular quality of ambiguity, wanting instead to pin it down to firm, fixed meanings, or investigate anything except for the actual sounding music. And at the same time there is the strong presence of a market-based ideology, especially in the so-called ‘new musicology’, which is utterly dismissive of the idea that there could be any music with some degree of autonomy from commercialism, or that there could be any value in such a thing. As such, many academic musicians have put up little resistance to a lot of dumbing-down of wider education, not to mention cuts to public funding of classical music. Some will happily consign a good deal of Western art music to the dustbin when it seems fashionable to do so, and in the process deny a lot of students help with grappling with a repertoire which those academics themselves could take for granted (you can read more of my thoughts on some these subjects on pp. 28-29 of the following – http://www.sma.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SMA_newsletter_2015.pdf ). In quite a bit of musicology, I see a bit of a cynical jostling for position, which privileges whatever are the ‘right’ conclusions in order to win favour with particular factions, as well as what are often quite simple arguments bathed jargon in order to impress. My models for academic writing (not ones I remotely think I could match!) are the likes of Charles Rosen, or Richard J. Evans – extremely clear and intelligent writers who convey complex ideas but have an ability to communicate to a wider public. At the same time, I do not accept what a ‘reductive’ view of music in terms of its social context; no music or other culture can probably be entirely autonomous of such a thing, but still, most fundamentally, I believe in the importance of culture which does more than simply reflect its conditions, but can reflect back critically upon them, in various ways, not least by offering up the possibility of other types of experience than those otherwise provided by its context. To deny that is really to deny creativity, I would say. This is an unfashionable view in academia today, but one which is vividly apparent to me coming first and foremost from the world of musical practice.

To make a more general point, one about which my thoughts have been influenced by regular conversations with many other academics in many institutions: I would say the corporate structures of much contemporary academia, and the ways in which power is distributed and exercise, can work against academic freedom and the possibilities for critical thinking. The very principles of independent rational and critical thought can be strongly at cross-purposes with hierarchical organisations which reward conformity and compliance. Some are unbothered by this, so long as they can derive personal gain and advancement. With this can come bullying, though attempts to ostracise scapegoat anyone who doesn’t go with the flow. I have seen, heard about, and experienced this sort of thing.

But nothing is more of a challenge than coming to terms with the extent of abuse, mistreatment and bullying in music education and the wider musical world. In early 2013, the former Director of Music at my old school, Chetham’s, was found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil, Frances Andrade, from when she was 14; she tragically took her own life during the trial. I and others knew that this was far from the only case at Chetham’s – in particular the atrocious way in which the case of Chris Ling (a serial abuser at the school, who fled the country (at first together with six girls from the school) to avoid prosecution, and who shot himself when facing extradition last year) had been hushed up.

Why did I get involved with all of this? I think that, as a musician and an educator, I have felt for a very long time (perhaps in part as a response to the toxic culture which existed in my time at Chetham’s) that there can be a hideous conflation of supposedly artistic, aestheticized values, and a culture of dehumanisation and brutalisation. I don’t want to exaggerate this parallel, but I was influenced by some of my academic research into aesthetics and fascism, seeing how a fundamentally aesthetic view of humankind can lead to an easy way to utterly dehumanise those who do not fit that aesthetic vision (see for example Frederic Spotts’ work on this subject). A lot started to make sense to me more clearly than ever, and my belief in the vital importance of working for a music world in which despicable behaviour was not excused by the veneer of artistry became hardened. Michael Brewer epitomised everything that was wrong, something I saw but maybe did not fully comprehend when at school.

Anyhow, after the verdict, I hosted on my blog (http://ianpace.wordpress.com ) a petition calling for a public inquiry into abuse in musical education in general (all types of abuse – sexual, physical, psychological). Within a couple of weeks, I had got thousands of signatures from the musical profession, including many former pupils from the five specialist music schools. But with this, a great many people wrote to me with testimony of their own awful experiences, glad that at last there was a climate where people might be prepared to believe this had happened. As a result of this, I had inadvertently become an expert on the subject, and there was no turning back (this was not information I could easily turn over to anyone else). I submitted the petition to the appropriate authorities, but didn’t get much positive response. I came to realise that if I was to be taken seriously on this subject, I needed to know more about the wider issues of abuse (which to politicians and others seemed more significant), especially if abuse in music might be connected to these. This led me to the case of Alan Doggett (a conductor associated with Lloyd Webber and Rice, based at Colet Court School and then elsewhere), and to the organisation PIE (I don’t want to go into detail on this now – you can look on my blog for more). It took over a significant part of my life for an extended period – I have pulled back a little now, but am still active, and have compiled many documents on the basis of my research.

You cannot imagine how upsetting and frightening this can become – I had heard people say so, but never really had the measure of it until I actually felt it first-hand. The personal toll this has taken has been immense, both in terms of state of mind, relationship, and many other things, and it has coincided with other difficulties (including some other academics exploiting the situation to try and undermine my work in general). It is also impossible to avoid getting caught up in the wider politics of this, which is complicated by the fact that there are clearly some involved with other agendas, some far from benign, and also simply the fact that there are inevitably some very damaged people there. This has been the biggest challenge of my life. But I don’t regret doing it at all.

Some might want to use this issue to undermine classical music in general. In no sense is that my agenda – I care about that music very deeply, but want to see it practised and taught in a more humane environment. This should not be impossible.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Performances: mostly I go away from them thinking of the things I was least happy with, but as time goes on I come to think a bit more positively. Not through listening to recordings (I rarely record live concerts from choice – live performance and recording are to me fundamentally differently mediums, as much so as theatre and film), but just having time to reflect and digest. I recall being quite pleased with a concert in Leeds in 2010 where I played Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes, probably the best I have played it. I also greatly enjoyed a concert the previous year as part of my leaving event at Dartington College of Arts, where I used to teach. This included the Fauré Nocturne No. 4, Janáček In the Mists, and Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrouchka and Rebecca Saunders’ Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. There was a performance of Stockhausen Klavierstück X I gave at City University in 2014 which I think was not bad at all. What else? Radulescu’s Third Sonata in Leuven in 2007, in an extra concert after the main one (where I had given the premiere of the Sixth Sonata). And a performance of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus right back in 1997, within the context of a series of the music of Howard Skempton. And any number of performances of Christopher Fox’s More Light, which I adore. Also a performance of Lachenmann’s Serynade in Aberdeen last autumn. And a concert in the Festival d’automne in Paris in 2002 where I played all of the Dusapin Études (the premiere of the complete set) and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. One concert in my home town of Hartlepool in 2014, with Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Janáček, and Earl Wild’s Fantasy on Themes from Porgy and Bess. These are a handful of those about which I feel reasonably happy.

Recordings: harder to say, because soon after they are released, I stop listening to them. When you have dissected them in the process of preparation, you know all the things which didn’t quite turn out how you wanted them too, and those become more difficult to handle with every listening. My recording of Dusapin’s Études and piano concerto À Quia is not bad, also that of Walter Zimmermann’s piano works, at least some of them. And I’m not unhappy with my biggest recording project to date, that of Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, a 5-CD set.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m less and less convinced about how well a good deal of repertoire from before around the mid-19th century works on a modern piano, so can’t imagine that I play much of that particularly well now. Best? Some Liszt, Brahms, some Debussy and Ravel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage, Feldman, Ligeti, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Kagel, Rzewski, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Sciarrino, Radulescu, Dusapin, Fox.

Chopin I adore (and above all I see as a contrapuntal composer), but I’m never really convinced that I can do what I want to on a modern instrument. The same is true of Schumann (all that thick passagework in the central registers is one reason his music is mistakenly assumed to be somewhat muddy). Scriabin I continue to try to negotiate (I find its exaggerated qualities can lead to banality, and have too much of an ironic sensibility to take all that mysticism and affected sensuousness at face value) with mixed results. Schoenberg is hard to bring off.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

In many cases, depending upon what I get asked to play! But I like to expand what I do, as well as playing some of my well-ingrained repertoire. In the last few years I’ve been doing various new things – the transcriptions by Earl Wild of music of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, the amazing Piano Sonata of Sergei Zagny, more recent work of Christopher Fox, whilst on my own looking more at composers like Florent Schmitt and Frederic Mompou. I want to play more lesser-known Slavic music of various types. This year I played the Dukas Sonata for the first piece, and have been documenting the process for an article on practice-as-research.

I hope at whatever age I will continue to champion the works of younger composers. In many ways that is the most important thing to do. Of course not everything is fantastic, but if these people do not get a proper hearing, we will never know which stuff is.

I love playing new work. I’ve just premiered an incredible new piece by Finnissy called Beethoven’s Robin Adair, and later on in the year I will be playing new works by Lauren Redhead and Patrícia Almeida. I cannot say how excited I am about this.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

Various ones I have enjoyed: the main radio concert hall at Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Berliner Konzerthaus, the Warehouse in London. In general, venues without tiered seats sound best!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: many things mentioned above! Above all Liszt, Debussy, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Finnissy, Radulescu, Dusapin, I think.

To listen to: then things get much broader. I can listen to any amount of medieval music of whatever type, though some music of the Renaissance leaves me cold (but I like Josquin, Ockeghem, and then later Marenzio (very much) and Gesualdo). After that, much of what I listen to is from the nineteenth and twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries. I adore a great deal of opera (and teach a module on it). I also listen to a good deal of jazz of all periods, and have a real love for British jazz of the 1930s and 1940s – Henry Hall, Ambrose, and so on. A good deal of popular music – perhaps more British than American, though I go for 1940s and 1950s American music of many types, and then stuff of Hendrix, the Doors, and Zappa and Beefheart on one hand, and lots of Motown and Chicago funk on the other.

All sorts of music which I find somehow culturally significant, I suppose. My listening habits are extremely eclectic and catholic, but not undiscerning, I hope.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again – see the above! I also am drawn to many historically-informed performers and groups: Harnoncourt (especially), Goebel, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, Music Antiqua Köln, Frieburger Barockorchester the ORR and Gardiner, countless medieval vocal groups (but not so much those in the British traditions). I love the work of Ensemble Organum under Marcel Pérès, and also that of my university colleague Alex Lingas’s group Cappella Romana.

Some other pianists as well as those mentioned before: Josef Lhevinne, Ignaz Friedman, Egon Petri, Grigory Ginsburg, Earl Wild, Julius Katchen, Paul Jacobs, Jörg Demus, Aldo Ciccolini, Lazar Berman, Friedrich Gulda, Samson François, Kristian Zimerman, Dezsö Ránki, Marc-André Hamelin, Janusz Olejniczak, Bart van Oort.

Some other composers beyond those listed above who are favourites: Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, John Dunstable, Guillaume Dufay, Marenzio, Monteverdi, both Scarlattis, Frescobaldi, Biber, Purcell, J.S. Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Charpentier, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Bellini, Donizetti, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Fauré (cannot hear enough of his music), Albéniz, Ives, Debussy, Ravel (every work is worth hearing, many times), Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg up until the early 1920s, and then from the late 1930s, Varèse, Bartók, Kodály, Percy Grainger, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Dieter Schnebel, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Sylvano Bussotti, Franco Evangelisti, Josef Anton Riedl, Hans Otte, Galina Ustvolskaya, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Ivo Malec, Nicolaus A. Huber, and lots of others.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The final concert in my 1996 series of Michael Finnissy – the high I felt after that was really something. Various occasions where I have stepped in at the last minute to play things. I can do this, and sometimes it generates such a level of adrenalin that the performance has something particularly special, even if it feels knife-edge! A few occasions where I really didn’t know if it was going to be possible: the world premiere of Brian Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam in Leuven in 2000 (finished just three days before the concert), or of Wieland Hoban’s when the panting STARTS four years later in the same place.

Playing with lots of singers, having the chance to play operatic repertoire I love so much.

It is difficult to answer this question, really.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Find a really good technical approach as early as possible – remember there is loads of quackery around. For pianists, if anyone tells you to play with your elbows locked into the body, or with a fixed wrist, find someone else instead.

Listen to all types of music, you can never listen to too much. And listen to many types of performers, and really listen – when you find something really striking, see if you can see how that is brought about. And don’t just listen to your own instrument, or even your own musical genre. For pianists, listen in particular to singers, but also to orchestras. Listen to music from outside of Western traditions. Look for music you would not encounter otherwise.

Try and have some experience of all of the following: keyboard, singing, percussion. All vital skills. Learn at least basic harmony and counterpoint as early as possible, and develop aural skills as best as possible. Get used to being able to listen intently and mentally analyse many musical and aural phenomena you encounter. Read more widely about music, music history, music theory, and lots of critical questions surrounding music.

Do lots of sight reading from an early age – that is how the skill is developed (spending time bashing through opera scores and the like when I was young helped immensely here). I can’t stress enough how important a skill this is, and how much one needs to be able to absorb music and get into a performable state in a short amount of time in a professional career, and with all the other pressures and demands of life.

If any teachers or others try to dismiss the music you care about, on grounds of its being allegedly elitist, Eurocentric, or whatsoever, remember they almost invariably have a chip on their shoulder about it for other reasons. Stand up for what you believe in against such people, even if they are your teachers.

Become more widely conversant with many arts – literature, poetry, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. and ideas, and the world in general. Understand what you can about the cultural, social and historical context of the music you play, but try and understand the context in which you are playing it too. Look outwards as well as inwards. Embrace the world and people with all their imperfections. Remember how much you can always learn from others. Try and imagine yourself inside the mind of someone who shares few of the same core assumptions about music and culture as yourself. Then you will have a clearer idea of how you might be able to communicate with them.

Take on board two bits of advice I heard from different pianists: Peter Donohoe once said that when young and starting out, do whatever you can that is to do with music, it will all benefit. John Lill once said that a musician has to be very sensitive to the music they play, but very insensitive to all the crap they will put up with because of the politics of the profession. Both of these are very good pieces of advice.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Mostly doing the same type of thing, perhaps a bit more recognition, feeling a more supportive general environment in society as a whole (with a different complexion of government) for what I believe. Having issued more recordings and writings. Maybe composing some more. Commissioning lots more new works. Remaining in good health as I approach 60!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Just spending time together with my wife Lindsay, in a nice place, such as in Italy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my books.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing, reading, listening, eating and drinking well, cycling, teaching, and being with Lindsay. Seeing friends and people in general.

What is your present state of mind? 

Somewhat anxious, distrustful, ever-aware of how easily corruptible and awestruck by power so many people are. Concerned about the world is getting even more ruthless and inhuman all the time, and how fear is being stoked to breed prejudice. The US might elect Donald Trump President – that is terrifying, and speaks of a wider malaise in that society. Also concerned to see classical music and other forms of demanding artistic education get lost (or rather, become restricted to those privileged enough to have an elite education) in a mire of relativism and eschewal of value judgement. Preparing to go on strike tomorrow against real-terms cuts in pay for academics, casualization, and gender inequality. But still ultimately hopeful and optimistic, refusing to give in to complete cynicism.

I think I feel very internationalist in outlook. And as inspired as ever when encountering creativity. That’s why I remain an optimist, however jaded by experience.

I would like to mention another project I am involved in, crowd-funding to make a recording of the piano music of Marc Yeats. This is something I so want to make happen, and has less than two more weeks to run. Full details, and ways of supporting the project, can be found here – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/my-recording-of-marc-yeats-piano-music-please-support-this-project/ . Please do help!

 

Ian Pace is a pianist of long-established reputation, specialising in the farthest reaches of musical modernism and transcendental virtuosity, as well as a writer and musicologist focusing on issues of performance, music and society and the avant-garde. He was born in Hartlepool, England in 1968, and studied at Chetham’s School of Music, The Queen’s College, Oxford and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Juilliard School in New York. His main teacher, and a major influence upon his work, was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor, a student of Bartók.

Ian Pace’s website

Meet the Artist……Javier Perianes, pianist

(Photograph: Josep Molina/PR)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music? 

I actually took my first musical steps playing the clarinet in the marching band of Nerva, the village where I grew up.  This was the first instrument I ever learned, and I could see myself taking it further.  But then an aunt introduced me to the incredible sound world of the piano and from the beginning. I was absolutely fascinated .  As for the second part of the question, I feel that things have always progressed very naturally: I never had to make any decision as to whether or not to pursue a career in music.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

I’m really lucky in that I’ve always had extraordinary teachers: Julia Hierro (my first teacher), María Ramblado, Ana Guijarro, and Josep Colom have been a source of wisdom and inspiration throughout my student years. I’ve also had the chance to get great advice from Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, or Alicia de Larrocha, all of whom I deeply admire.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Every new piece I learn – I like to think of that as the greatest challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

It is quite hard to pick a particular concert or recording, but perhaps for its special significance maybe I’d pick having taken part in one of the last concerts of the Tokyo Quartet during their farewell season, doing the Brahms and Schumann Quintets. It was a highly emotional experience and unforgettable for me as I was a long-time admirer of the Quartet.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I prefer to leave that to audiences, but I also like to think that what I should play best is what I’m performing or working on at the moment.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

One consideration is to link recording plans with the launching of recordings with Harmonia Mundi and, on the other, to consider particular requests from promoters as well as any lines of programming that orchestras and conductors might have. In any case, when I work on devising a recital program I like to find some unifying principle and/or connections amongst the works being presented.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

It’s difficult to choose just one among so many extraordinary concert halls where I’ve had the great pleasure to perform. Suntory Hall in Tokyo presents a very special combination between its admirable acoustics and great audience capacity; another wonderful hall that is a favourite for its forward-looking conception is the New World Center in Miami. And how to forget the magic and tradition one can feel in temples of music like London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw or New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I hesitate to even begin answering the first question: the repertoire is so vast, rich and varied! Like I said before, perhaps whatever piece I’m working on or performing at the moment becomes my favourite. As to my listening habits, let me just give you a small glimpse through my iPod playlist: Granados’ Goyescas with Alicia de Larrocha, Tchaikovsky Symphonies with St. Petersburg Philharmonic and E. Mravinsky, Brahms Symphonies with N. Harnoncourt, Chopin Nocturnes with MJ Pires, the last Schubert Sonatas with Radu Lupu, Beethoven Sonatas with Daniel Barenboim, Mozart piano concertos with Mitusko Uchida, Schubert Trios by the Beaux Arts, Debussy by Michelangeli and a very long etcetera.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

As a pianist I’m such an admirer of many of today’s musicians such as Barenboim, Pires, Lupu or Sokolov. At the same time, I must also say that I’m fascinated by past musicians like Schnabel, Lipatti, Michelangeli, Rubinstein, Myra Hess, Hoffman, Cortot, etc. If we add to the list other instrumentalists, singers, and conductors the list would prove to be endless!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

In addition to my collaboration with the Tokyo Quartet during their farewell season I should single out my debut in Lucerne with Zubin Mehta, my recent collaborations with Tabea Zimmermann, Beethoven’s Emperor with Daniel Barenboim, Ravel’s G Major with Daniel Harding and the London Syphony, the Schumann with Michael Tilson Thomas, and my debuts with Yuri Temirkanov and Maazel, among many others. I greatly cherish those memories.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Honesty, dedication, personality, work and passion.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

I’d like to be exactly the same but of course with the maturity, experience and depth ten years will bring!

What is your present state of mind? 

Searching, exploring, discovering and delving deeper!

Javier Perianes performs at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 20th April 2016 under Vladimir Jurowski in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5 (‘Egyptian’). Further information here

www.javierperianes.com

Meet the Artist……Andreas Haefliger

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(Photo: Marco Borggreve)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music

I was born into a musical family. My father Ernst (a tenor) was the preeminent Evangelist (in the Bach Passions) of his time and also a wonderful Liedersinger.

Under these circumstances it is difficult to describe when the passion for music arose. It was simply always there and, maybe as the smell of leather permeates the childhood of the son of a shoemaker, the smell of music permeated mine.

My mother talked about me always being drawn to the piano – at three years of age I would walk over and start playing, my arms reaching up to the keyboard.

The conscious decision to pursue the career was thus more like an acceptance of the inevitable.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical career and life?

Again I must start with the earliest and biggest influence – my father.

From the earliest age I was immersed into going to operas, oratorios and lieder recitals. Wonderful musicians like Karl Richter, Erich Werba, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau came to our house to make music and as soon as I was able to I had to accompany for pupils who came to the house for lessons. What better training could a child wish for.

In early adulthood my dreamy childhood fantasies were quickly adjusted to the reality of music-making through my studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Hans Leygraf and then through my Juilliard studies with Herbert Stessin and the iconic William Masselos.

At age 17 the towering presence of Alfred Brendel came into my life and studies and dialogue continued for many years for which I am thankful to this day.

What have been the greatest challenges to your career so far?

The pianist’s life is one of constant growth.

As an interpreter you have to find just the right mix of ego and humility and this requires tremendous investment not just in the art of music, but also in the growth as a human being. Therefore challenges are omnipresent in your daily life as you walk through this growth.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am still very pleased with my early recordings of Mozart, Schumann and Gubaidulina for Sony. Later I challenged myself with the Perspectives Recordings of which the Beethoven op 106 was a milestone of sorts. The human growth I talked about in the last question is audible however in the last recording of Schumann Fantasy and op 109- so may be I could say this one is the one that has reached an intermediate goal. My public perfomances have always been mirrored by the CDs so therefore I am also at a new level of expression in this medium.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I do believe that my talent lies mostly in the interpretation of the central european repertoire. I also very much however enjoy commissioning new music from all over the world.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am a strong believer in the importance of programming. The piano recital offers to the pianist an opportunity to combine pieces  and lead the audience from work to work much as a curator would in a museum. In the past six seasons I have made the Beethoven Piano Sonatas the central part of this exhibition and I combine them with works that intuitively or intellectually  share or juxtapose ideas, keys or moods.

Do you have a favorite concert venue to perform in?

I love the famous halls in this world- each one has something particular and stunning to offer. All share the component of facilitating densely concentrated moments in time, thus making the creation of great art possible.

I also sense however that there will be evermore a branching away from these platforms of high culture  and that music in less formal settings will become more and more popular. In the best circumstances this can aid the art form tremendously as it will create an atmosphere of accessibility without watering down the content.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I always enjoy the pieces that I am working on at the moment. In listening  I like to be surprised by repertoire I don’t know.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Edwin Fischer,  Wilhelm Kempf, Bruno Walter

Edwin Fischer once said that the perfect interpretation is to enliven a work without violating it. These three performers all shared this ability.

What is your most memorable concert experience

May be in an odd turnaround from my previous answer this still remains Leonard Bernstein with New York Philharmonic performing Mahler 2nd symphony. A wildly involved performance that was stirring to attend- oddly I am much less fond of the recording of this very concert.

What do you consider the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Where does work begin and inspiration end?

We find ourselves in a very strange profession. Ultimately we are the flag bearers of a great achievement of human civilization. Ideally we go on stage in front of thousands of other human beings and transport them to never before experienced emotional heights. Years of study in matters both musical and philosophical have brought us to the point where we find ourselves capable of presenting phrases with such intensity and knowledge that they reach the listeners ear without distraction. Great art is made.

At the same time we live in an age of crippling competition and ability. Worldwide travel and immediate availability are a matter of course in a world where the other one will go and play if you don’t. Quick fix artistry is rampant in a selfie culture that looks to propagate the own achievement through any means possible. The music world is a confusing place.

At some point the student today has to make a decision to involve herself in the slow process of musical growth. At the same time modern aspects of musical performance cannot be ignored but must be incorporated in order for artistic intensity to be realized.

The young student must address this dichotomy early on in order to be able to successfully navigate the art form.

Andreas Haefliger performs Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 with the Minnesota Orchestra on 18th and 19th March 2016. Further information here

Coming from a rich tradition, the pianist Andreas Haefliger is: “consummately lyrical. Exhibitionism and pretence are antithetical to his musical personality”; he has “a vision of musical architecture second to none and a tender, profoundly cultivated sensibility, from which music flows unimpeded” ( International record review, September 2014). He has won many plaudits for his Beethoven Perspectivesrecitals on disc (Avie) and at major halls and festivals. He is also much sought-after as a chamber musician – past highlights include Mostly Mozart New York with the Takacs Quartet, and Salzburg Festival with Mathias Goerne. In 2014 he gave the premiere at the BBC Proms of a new concerto written for him by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long.

Haefliger was born into a distinguished Swiss musical family and grew up in Germany, going on to study at the Juilliard School in New York. He was quickly recognised as a pianist of the first rank, and engagements with major US orchestras followed swiftly – the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestras among them. In his native Europe too, Haefliger was invited to the great orchestras and festivals – such as the Royal Concertgebouw, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre de Paris, London Symphony Orchestra and Vienna Symphony. He also established himself as a superb recitalist, making his New York debut in 1988, and has since performed regularly at major venues in Europe such as the Lucerne, Salzburg and Edinburgh Festivals and the Vienna Konzerthaus, as well as at major halls across North America and Asia.

Haefliger is a regular visitor to London’s Wigmore Hall, where he appears in December 2015 for the next instalment of his Perspectives series, in which he performs the complete piano works of Beethoven alongside works by other composers from Mozart to Ligeti. This series has formed the focus of Haefliger’s solo recital appearances and CD recordings in recent years. His latest chamber music project gathers friends Benjamin Schmid and Karen Gomyo (violins), Lise Berthaud (viola) and Christian Poltera (cello) for intensive rehearsal periods and concerts every year at the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, which the group will then take further afield. In spring 2016 he performs with his wife, the distinguished flautist Marina Piccinini, on an extensive tour of the USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chutzpah meets sensitivity: Dejan Lazic at Wigmore Hall

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(photo Susie Knoll)

The Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić first came to my attention, perhaps for the wrong reasons, when I read about his 2014 fracas with The Washington Post over the “right to be forgotten” in Google searches. He asked for a review from 2010, which he felt was unfair, to be removed. The incident sparked a lively debate across the networks about whether artists should respond to negative reviews or make such requests, and whether critics and reviewers need to be more careful about what they say. To me, it was a rather neat example of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”: I read about Lazić, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to hear him live.

I missed his Queen Elizabeth Hall concert in winter 2014 so I was pleased to see him on the roster of the Wigmore Hall’s lunchtime concerts. And how glad I am that I decided to go to the concert, for he presented an imaginative programme of music: two greats of German music – Haydn and Schumann – were juxtaposed with dances by Shostakovich and Lazić himself, all of which revealed his strengths.

Anyone who makes me smile in Haydn gets my applause……

Read my full review

Meet the Artist……Jason Bae, pianist

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(photo: Kelley Eady Loveridge)
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My dear teacher and mentor, Dr. Rae de Lisle, senior lecturer at School of Music, University of Auckland, who has taught me for 12 years. Maestro Chung Myung-Hoon who was the first South Korean pianist who became the Silver Medalist (no Gold-Medalist awarded) at 1974 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, who is now an internationally sought-after conductor.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My mentor, Dr. Rae de Lisle who has taught me since I was 9 years old until I graduated from University of Auckland with First Class Honours. She has seen me grow up and has guided me to where I am right now.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I grew up in New Zealand until I came to London last year. London life is completely different to New Zealand life where its population is only 4 million people. Studying at the Royal Academy of Music and living in London, the metropolitan city has been very challenging since I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have anyone who supported me. I had to completely depend on myself and this was great challenge.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

2009 my performance of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 when I was 17 years old. 2012 My debut recital at Auckland Town Hall, Chopin Preludes Complete, Bach/Busoni Chaconne. Recent performances of 2013 New Zealand Wallace Piano National Piano Competition of my Liszt Piano Sonata, Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit, Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 and 2014 New Zealand Wallace Piano Festival my complete recital programme of J.S. Bach Partita No.6, Rachmaninov Moments Musicaux complete.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 Op.36 (Original version), Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninov Moments Musicaux Op.16 complete.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

First of all, I have to know which venue I would be playing in and also what kind of audience, and this depends on the country, suburbs (whether it is a small town or big city). In small towns, I have to play relatively well-known works or well-known composers. In the big cities, I can introduce more contemporary works and new composers.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Auckland Town Hall Great Hall and Concert Chamber. Auckland is where I grew up and I went to almost every single concert in this venue where I received inspiration and motivation.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 Op.16. I have worked so hard to prepare this work and performed it so well. Now, I like listening to Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 which I am currently working on.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Stephen Hough, Leif Ove Andsnes, Arcadi Volodos, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, Vasily Petrenko and Vladmir Ashkenazy.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

2012 Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber Debut – Sold out. 2009 Lev Vlassenko International Piano Competition 2nd Prize – Brisbane, Australia. 2013 Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with Auckland Philharmonia – Auckland Town Hall Great Hall, New Zealand.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always have to remember that I am making music in order to solely share with audience. It’s never about showing off my talent but inspiring audience making them to appreciate the beauty of the classical music. Always aiming at making audience to feel that their couple of hours of listening to my performance was life-changing experience.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Chopin 4 Ballades, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Becoming an artist in residence for Wigmore Hall, London, Seoul Arts Centre, South Korea. Regular concerto soloist with Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Continuing to enjoy making music even though it is difficult journey and lonely life in order to share the music with many people around the world (not just in major concert halls, big cities but small rural towns as well). I would like to have a good family who can continuously support me to achieve my vision of sharing classical music to as many people as possible.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My experiences of travelling to many countries for my performances.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Meeting with my best friends for a good catch-up and conversation.

What is your present state of mind?

I am looking forward to preparing new works for 2015.

Jason Bae was born in Daejeon, South Korea in 1991 where he began studying piano at the age of five. At age 12, he has made his concerto debut with Auckland Symphony Orchestra performing Grieg Piano Concerto Op. 16. A year later, he became the youngest concerto soloist to perform with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for the ‘SkyCity Starlight Symphony Concert in the Park’ at the Auckland Domain in front of 200,000 people. Under the baton of Rossen Milanov, Jason performed Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds as a soloist with New Zealand National Youth Symphony Orchestra in 2010. He has also appeared as a concerto soloist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra of Australia, Auckland Youth Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Bach Musica. 

Jason’s full biography is on his website